Shion 69 Leonard Street
At $420 a pop, Shion 69 Leonard Street is one of the most expensive omakases in the city. The price tag alone makes it intriguing for a special occasion—but throwing back sake and singing "Happy Birthday" here would be akin to doing TikTok dances in a museum. This place is for one of those mature milestones, the kind that are straight out of a Neil Young song, when you want to sit and reflect on life, make peace with past failures and ones who got away. And you’ll get about 15 minutes to do that, before it’s time to pay attention. Between the peaceful room, precise salt-curing, and rhythmic pace of hot and cold plates, this meal will demand your presence like it’s the cult leader of a silent meditation retreat.
Chef Shion Uino previously worked at Tokyo’s three-Michelin-starred Sushi Saito—a spot that was eventually stripped of its stars for being too exclusive. Now, you’ll find him behind a roughly eight-seat counter in Tribeca, where you don’t need a private invite but the price tag still keeps the guest list short. Ask him questions, give him your gratitude, but let him work. You’ll understand why as the night goes on.
Here, you eat Edomae-style sushi, which involves careful preparation of salt-cured, vinegar-marinated fish, borrowing from the techniques used in Tokyo before refrigeration. Your meal starts with a seven-plate otsumami course, followed by nine pieces of nigiri, a hand roll, miso soup, and tamago. The whole experience takes about two and a half hours, and we wouldn’t recommend it for a rambunctious group. This is a serious meal, one to be studied. The chef is hyper-focused, and you should be too.
For the first half (the otsunami portion), you’ll eat a series of hot and cold small plates prepared in the kitchen with the assistance of the sous chef Hiroto Ochiai. A frequent opener is an ice-cold piece of longtooth grouper, sometimes paired with kanpachi, a firm, fatty fish that’ll break down as soon as it hits the tongue. Next, you might get a chunk of butterfish in hot ponzu with a generous amount of minced spring onions on top, followed by a pile of cold horsehair crab soaked in a slightly sweet broth with a black-vinegary aftertaste. The latter will be a larger portion, giving the kitchen time to set the scene for the best dish of the night: a piece of fish delivered from the kitchen so hot that the steam is basically opaque. Your first bite will audibly break through the crust—composed of deep-fried skin and scales. This is the type of dish that makes a meal, and it’s one we’d pay top dollar for on any à la carte menu.
Once the small plates are finished, a server will seize your chopsticks and insist that you thoroughly wipe your hands on a hot towel so as to not disturb the nuances of the fish you’re about to eat. That’s when the chef delivers a rather quick succession of nigiri. You might receive some naturally sweet striped jack or a piece of lean bluefin tuna from Hokkaido that bursts like fruit when you bite into it. A number of pieces are brushed with the chef’s own soy sauce, and some are finished with a barely-there dot of hot Japanese mustard that neutralizes your taste buds before you bite in. If the season allows for it, the chef will proudly tell you when you’re eating a rare fish flown in from his hometown of Amakusa. This meal is personal for him, too.
69 Leonard delivers on everything it absolutely must for the price: skillfully prepared fish, impeccable service, and enough food to not have to get a secret second dinner at McDonald’s. But so do a good number of other omakases in the city—and unless you frequent sushiyas like Carrie Bradshaw does Manolo Blahnik, the obsessive preparation and lore behind each fish might not be enough to justify the Tokyo-Bay-sized hole in your wallet. That said, if you’re interested in the craft of sushi and a world-class experience right out of a travel magazine, a spot at the counter is worth coveting.
Come here for a birthday, anniversary, or promotion—this restaurant is perfectly worthy of any major milestone. Just know that by the time you get to the finale, an aromatic miso soup and a perfect, dreamy block of tamago, you'll have forgotten what you even came to celebrate. The night will no longer be about you. The 69 Leonard experience is the special occasion.
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A night at Shion 69 Leonard starts with a 7-plate otsumami course, followed by nine pieces of nigiri, a hand roll, miso soup, and tamago. The entire meal tends to be seasonal—the nigiri certainly changes often—but you may also find that the fish is swapped out in signature dishes at different times of the year. A couple pieces we're still reminiscing about: monkfish liver accompanied by miso and yuzu, and yaito katsuo (a special regional bonito) topped with crunchy soy-marinated onions.